So here you are, a theatre technician about to enter the wonderful world of summer stock theatre. Let’s be honest, this is probably your first theatre job outside of high school or college. You’re generally far away from home, you don’t really know anyone, you’re working super long hours and you’re starting to learn that professional theatre is very different from high school or college theatre.
Having worked in summer stock myself, I’m here to pass on some wisdom to make it easier for those who are just starting out in this field. Here’s my advice:
1. Research Where You Are Going
This is very important. Not only do you need to know about the theatre you’ll be working for, but you also need to know about the city or town you’ll be living in. You won’t have a lot of time to explore once you get there, so it’s nice to research where you can hang out and get groceries ahead of time.
Also, check on what kind of weather you’ll be dealing with. How hot does the area get? Is it a different altitude than you’re used to? Does it see any extreme weather? If it’s a new area, you could be facing a lot of crazy changes.
You should also look into the theatre you’ll be working at to see the styles and sizes of the shows it typically produces. You never want to be blindsided by these things. For example, I was used to doing smaller shows in a black-box theatre, but my first summer stock theatre produced very large musicals on a stage at least twice the size as the biggest one I’d ever worked on. Had I not researched its past shows and theatre space, I would have been in for a huge shock.
2. Make Friends
One of the best things you can do is make friends with the people you work with. Summer stock can get lonely, and it’s always nice to have at least one person you can hang out with outside of work so you can blow off steam. Also, it’s always a good idea to network in the small world of theatre. You never know who is going to end up where, and it’s always good to make connections in your field.
For example, the people I worked with in Georgia had connections with the people I worked with in both Oklahoma and Michigan. These places are thousands of miles apart, but these people had still worked together in the past. The more connections you make, the more jobs you’re likely to get in the future.
3. Be Comfortable
When you’re working long hours, it’s always important to wear comfortable clothes. There’s nothing worse than dealing with tight clothes, itchy tags or being pinched mid-show.
Before starting your summer stock position, find a comfortable work wardrobe. Shoes are especially important. It’s best to get something with steel toes so that you don’t hurt yourself if you drop something or a piece of scenery rolls over your feet.
Also, try to get something with thick or hard soles, especially if you’re working in a scene shop. Stepping on nails, staples or screws is something that happens way too often, and getting a tetanus shot is never fun.
4. Stay Clean
We’re all friends here, so I’ll be straightforward with you: It’s “summer” stock. That means hot weather, a lot of sweat and a lot of smells. There are some good ways to handle this, though. Keep an extra stick of deodorant on hand and use it whenever you’re on break. It’s not weird, trust me — I do this every summer. Also, keep an extra shirt with you. If you find you’re getting too sweaty, just change.
Another thing you should always do is keep up with your laundry and avoid wearing anything that hasn’t been washed. You don’t want to be that guy who avoids doing laundry the entire summer — it’s not good for anyone. Follow the rules, and your colleagues will thank you.
5. Stay Hydrated
I have never worked in a shop for the summer that had air-conditioning. Even in the extreme heat in Oklahoma City, we only had a few fans placed around the shop. So, keep a water bottle with you at all times and make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This even goes for people who are working indoors in air-conditioning.
Odds are, whether you’re inside or outside, you’ll be on the go for most of the day and can easily get dehydrated. I know that as technicians we tend to get busy and forget to take care of ourselves, but remember that the show needs you to be alive and well.
6. Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
Onstage work is fast-paced and can be dangerous if you’re not careful. During summer stock shows, everything can move faster than you’re used to. You may be working long hours and not getting as much sleep as you’d like. No matter what is going on, you always need to take time to keep an eye on your surroundings. Keep an eye out for anything dangerous, such as cords or rope in the grid, tools left on top of ladders or moving pipes.
7. Make a Summer Survival Kit
Every year, I like to put together a few things that will make my summer easier and help me relax in my downtime. My survival kit generally includes some things for work, including a water bottle, a multi-tool, lots of hair ties and extra deodorant, along with things for my downtime, such as a map of the area, sunscreen, insect repellent and my favorite books.
What you put in your kit may depend on the area you’re in as well — for instance, it rains a lot in the summer in Michigan, so I’d always keep an umbrella or poncho with me. On the other hand, Oklahoma was very dry, so I always kept lotion and chap-stick with me. It’s always nice to be prepared.
8. Enjoy Yourself
So, cards on the table, summer stock can be tough, but you can also have an amazing time. Go in with a good attitude and expect a challenge. Gain theatre experience and allow yourself to grow as a professional. This is a chance to really experience theatre in a whole new way. You get to meet lots of new people from all over the country who are just as passionate about theatre as you are.
And let’s face it, you get some of the best stories from summer stock. Don’t go in assuming you know everything, but be open to learning new things. So, be careful, be confident and take care of yourself, and you’ll nail it.